Islam is the world's second largest religion, with an estimated 1.3 billion followers. (Note 1)
In the USA, Islam is among the fastest growing religions (1998). America is said to have 1200 mosques and Islamic centers, and 6-7 million adherents. However, these numbers are being disputed. (See also: Statistics).
Islam also claims significant growth in Africa and is growing - largely through immigration and a higher-than-average birthrate, in Europe (example: Netherlands).
The term "Arab" describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable. (Matter of fact, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation).
The word 'Islam' is derived from the Arabic 'Islama', which means 'submission.' The religion was founded by Muhammad, whom Muslims consider to be the last prophet of the one God, Allah.
Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570 AD. "At the age of 40 he had a visitation from the Archangel Gabriel, who revealed to him the contents of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, and gave him the task of cleansing Mecca of pagan shrines." (Note 2)
According to the Quran, "[T]he only religion acceptable to God is Submission" (to Allah). (Quran 3:19)
There may not be another religion
like Islam with its simplicity and unity of beliefs. Whether one is a Muslim in Singapore or Saudi Arabia, a Sunni or Shiite, a scholar or poor person, the major beliefs are the same. There is little argument about their broad meanings. The Quran states that it is righteousness to believe in Allah, the last day, angels, the Book, and the messengers (Quran 2:177
The major beliefs of Islam are the following:
- Monotheism: There is no other god than the one god Allah.
- Angels: Among the angels, Gabriel appeared to Muhammad from heaven with the words of the Quran.
- Prophets: There are many prophets, including Jesus, but Muhammad is the last prophet.
- Scriptures: The Quran is the infallible, inerrant scripture revealed to Muhammad. The Torah and the Gospel were revealed to Moses and Jesus as inerrant in their times but they have become corrupt.
- Judgment: Everyone will be judged by Allah.
- Paradise and hell: Distinctly different eternal destinies await the blessed and the damned.
Orthodox Islam accepts these beliefs with little wriggle room. Popular of folk Islam holds broadly to these beliefs but allows accretions to them. But no Muslim would deny what the Quran tells them to believe, namely, the substance of the above beliefs.
Seven Arabic words repeated by every Muslim
describe the very core of Islam. "Ilaha illa Allah. Muhammad rasul Allah." (Important: Note 3)
"There is no God but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is the shahada
, the great confession. (Quran 3:81; 5-83-84; 2:255; 3:18; 3:144; 4:87; 7:172; 33:40; 48:29; 64:8). It is said that to say those words and believe them is conversion to Islam and is what makes a Muslims a Muslim.
These words of the shahada are whispered into a Muslim's ears at birth and at death. This confession is uttered fourteen times daily in the stated prayers. Muslims confess their monotheistic faith and their final prophet.
There are no other gods. Allah is God. God is creator, sustainers, and Lord. Muslims are accountable only to him. There were other prophets. But Muhammad is the last and final prophet.
Muslims honor and follow the life of Muhammad, both his public and private life. Thus, the confession provides the road map for life. Belief and practice fit together in submission to God and acknowledgement of the example of the final prophet. It unites the vertical and the horizontal, the spiritual and the ethical. God is the focus of worship and prayer. Muhammad is the role model for the individual and the community.
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